Against Nothingness or 3CM Above an Empty Head

Mon 18th – Sun 24th August 2014


Jeremy Barclay

at 02:42 on 19th Aug 2014



Melodramatic Monochromatic Madness is the name of the game for Pulse 53’s daring adaptation of Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz’s play Against Nothingness or 3cm Above an Empty Head. Featuring a cast of mimes who - circulating in and out of the stage in an endless loop – seem to have been wound up and let loose like clockwork toys.

The sheer physicality of their performances burns intensely from the first second, with each member of the ensemble owning their space in the play with real commitment; attributing each character with their own unique quirks and features.

Ragtime piano music narrates a lively dumbshow in the first section, where the ensemble of quirky mimes get to show off their chops. The effect is instantly impressive, giving the feel of an old silent film – only reinforced by the chalky black & white make up and the setting of the dumbshow in the cinema. The feel of this opening section is loaded with nostalgia; one thinks warmly of Chaplin, Circus Clowns and Tim Burton when looking upon this spectacle of mimes.

However, this is not a disposition that Pulse 53 is happy to keep you in for long. The comedic sketches of the ensemble are punctuated by the struggles of main character Stasiu (Tom Fletcher) – a writer, and creator of this odd world - to please his towering nine-foot tall father. As his desperation increases, so does the psychedelic nature of the play, culminating in a drug-fuelled cacophony of noise and movement. At times, this becomes nonsensical – but never boring. In any case, nonsense and philosophy are doled out in equal measure, with Fletcher reminding the audience that what is ‘even stranger is the assumption that the world might have existed without me’.

Directors Teresa & Andrzej Welmińscy have done a stunning job of crafting what could have been a delirious mess of overzealous mimes into an organised chaos, which, whilst painting a picture of terrifying madness, rarely loses a sense of orchestration. What this means is that the descent of this show into the macabre from its high seat of ragtime fun is subtle enough to draw out a disturbed feeling from the audience whilst keeping grasp of its dark humour.

There are a lot of things seemingly stupid and silly about this show, it is loud, brash, and arguably pretentious. But to criticise it for this is to ignore its sense of wonderful chaos. This play is expertly executed and will reward you for succumbing to its sinister whimsy.


Kate Wilkinson

at 09:58 on 19th Aug 2014



The hauntingly beautiful score and grotesque monochromatic figures of Pulse 53’s Against Nothingness are still dancing through my mind the morning after spending a night in their arresting company. The experimental and multiform play dramatises the life and works of Stanislaw Witkeiewicz. I know this now of course, having read the programme, but knowledge of the Polish philosopher is by no means necessary to enjoy the piece. Indeed the abstract and often troubling sounds, movements, and images created by the ensemble seem to dare the pretentious reviewer to make any number of interpretations. I think it both safer and in the spirit of the piece to say that the exact meaning of the whole is less important than the strange impressions created by its many parts.

Very much an ensemble piece, each cast member is talented and versatile conveying their story through physical theatre, clown, live music, and grotesque imagery. Teresa and Andrzej Welminscy demonstrate masterful direction and have orchestrated the wild piece with control and fluidity. Dramatic changes in mood and pace are sudden and deliberate. The ensemble is comfortable both when fast and frenetic and when doleful and melancholy.

The tone of the piece is set during the play’s opening moments. The cast parade across and around the stage in a conveyor belt of bizarre characters, each actor adopting beautifully controlled, stylised physicality in gaunt shapes and jerky movements. The hair, makeup, and costume design is opulently gothic, very Tim Burton-esque.

Though the story is absolutely non-linear, recurrent themes emerge and the central writer figure anchors the piece. Every so often the stage is entered by the towering figure of the writer’s imposing father with whom Stanislaw has a troubled relationship. The onstage antics appear as the wild offspring of his frenzied imagination and correspond to his varying mood swings. The piece captures an intense creative exuberance stemming from a deep melancholia (and narcotic drugs). A sense of fun accompanies the entire piece and plays alongside even the more disturbed moments. When Stanislaw takes a range of drugs, the players swarm around the stage in an escalating crescendo - while shots of vodka are handed out to the audience.

This has to be one of the most genuinely creative shows I have seen at the Fringe and the talented company is truly world class. See them while you can.


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